Leading up to the first day of training camp, we’re going to look at the most important Patriots, counting down from 10 to 1. I almost put this next guy at the top of the list. He’s that dominant. But I have a thing for quarterbacks in a quarterback-driven league so . . .
NO. 2: ROB GRONKOWSKI
Why? There's no better player at his position than Ron Gronkowski. And aside from J.J. Watt in Houston, there's no other positional player who is so far ahead of the next guy you need binoculars to find him. You can’t cover him with a safety because there isn’t one big enough to handle Gronk’s size and brute strength. A cornerback? Are you kidding me? A coach should get fired for thinking such a thing. Put a linebacker on him and Gronk starts salivating like a dog with a plate of grilled steaks sitting on the countertop. They, too, surrender size in their matchup, and the Pats tight end is a much better route-runner than anyone bothers to give him credit for. In short, he’s pretty much the perfect weapon.
Previous Performance: Coming off another injury-plagued season in 2013, Gronk wasn’t Gronk at the start of 2014: Just 13 catches for 127 yards in that 2-2 September. He was starting to get impatient. Hell, we all were. Then came the breakout performance at home versus Cincinnati: Six catches. One hundred yards. A TD. A near tearful admission that he was sick of people questioning his quarterback and that it was up to him to show everyone that Tom Brady was still Tom Brady. The beast was back, and those pedestrian early performances quickly were forgotten. Gronk finished with 82 catches, 1,124 yards and 12 TDs, then hit paydirt in all three playoff games, including his undressing of K.J. Wright in the Super Bowl. What was I was saying about being a matchup nightmare????
Questions surrounding the player: Health. That’s it. That’s all. When fully healthy during the 2011-12 regular season, he was downright Randy Mossian, with more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns. But then it was an ankle, a forearm, a forearm again, a torn ACL. That robbed us of the Eigth Wonder of the World for multiple seasons. But last year signaled a return to form and now the dude had a full offseason to train and ride around on his party bus. Look out world.
Overall Outlook: I think we’re going to see a repeat of that ’11-12 season. And it’s going to be glorious.
In an interview with The Big Lead, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long spoke on the drama surrounding Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
It's safe to say he doesn't put much stock into it.
I just think any NFL team, any NFL locker room under a lot of stress over a year period, there are going to be storylines people can choose to kind of blow out of proportion or not pay attention to. I think everyone’s going to pay attention to sometimes really small issues. Whatever people are alluding to going on up there hasn’t affected their play, it hasn’t affected their bottom line. It hasn’t affected how they executed on Sundays.
Long played with the Patriots during the 2016 season and won Super Bowl 51 with them before signing a two-year contract with the Eagles. The Eagles then went on to beat New England in Super Bowl 52. If anyone outside of the Patriots' locker room has an idea of the culture inside the past two years, Long has to be one of them.
It took everything for us to beat them. It took a heroic performance by Nick Foles and we had to play our best game. So while everybody likes to always point to the Patriots as being under duress or there’s some drama in the locker room, there’s drama in every locker room that you could blow out of proportion. They’re just on top and those stories sell because they’ve been so great.
ESPN's Seth Wickersham released a story detailing some of the issues that arose in New England over the past few years in January, and with Brady missing almost all of the Patriots' voluntary workouts last month, some have started to wonder whether this is the end for one of both of Brady-Belichick.
While their hasn't been much public acknowledgement from either side about the drama, but Long certainly doesn't see much substance to the noise.
Tony Romo's Super Bowl prediction of the Jacksonville Jaguars taking over the AFC title from the Patriots and facing the Green Bay Packers in Atlanta in SB53 drew a response from Tom Brady on Instagram.
The NFL's official Instagram account posted a photo of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Jags cornerback Jalen Ramsey with the prediction of Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys QB now the analyst on CBS' No. 1 NFL broadcast team. Here's a screenshot, complete with Brady's comment:
Appearing on the NFL Network earlier this week, Romo said rumors of a rift between Brady and coach Bill Belichick are overblown. “I think they probably squabble just like any married couple for 20 years, and then they also love each other.
“I just think when you work together for 15 to 20 years, whatever it is, I think that whenever you have the success that they have, people have to come up with stuff,” Romo said. “I also think that I’ve been upset with my coaches before, and then you come back and you’re fine. And then you get upset with them, and you come back and you’re fine. It’s a part of sports.”
Brady and the Patriots report to camp on July 26.